Roberts clears judiciary panel vote

The Senate committee approves his nomination 13-5, with three Democrats joining the 10 Republicans.

Associated Press
Published September 23, 2005

WASHINGTON - John Roberts' nomination as chief justice cleared a Senate committee on a bipartisan vote of 13-5 Thursday, with next week's confirmation so certain that Republicans and Democrats turned to urging President Bush to move carefully in filling a second Supreme Court vacancy.

Three Democrats joined the 10 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee in voting for Roberts, a stinging defeat for liberal groups that are lobbying against his confirmation.

Five Democrats voted against Roberts. They said they had concerns about his commitment to civil rights and concern that he might vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 court ruling on the right to abortion.

"The values and perspectives displayed over and over again in his record cast doubt on his view of voting rights, women's rights, civil rights and disability rights," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said of the 50-year-old appeals court judge and former Reagan administration lawyer.

The full Senate is to debate Roberts' nomination next week, with a final vote on Bush's pick to replace the late William H. Rehnquist expected on Thursday. That would allow Roberts to take his place on the court before the justices begin their new term on Oct. 3.

With Roberts' confirmation a certainty, several senators on the committee were looking ahead to Bush's selection of a replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the committee's chairman, said he thought the president might name a successor shortly after Roberts' confirmation. "He might wait until the following Monday, but seeing how President Bush operates, I think it will be sooner rather than later," he said.

Specter, a supporter of abortion rights, forecast a more contentious debate than Roberts has provoked - and then speculated about the impact on the court if there were a third vacancy next spring.

"I'm very much concerned if next June Justice (John Paul) Stevens retires," he said. "If you have three appointees to the court you have a potential to have a sharp turn on the court, and that's a matter of concern."

Stevens, the oldest justice at 85, has consistently voted with the majority in 5-4 opinions upholding the 1973 abortion ruling and the constitutionality of affirmative action while limiting the application of the death penalty.

Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.